UC Irvine could only hope it was Buehler’s day off Monday at the College World Series.
With a spot in the bracket final on the line, Vanderbilt sophomore fireballer Walker Buehler rescued the Commodores (47-19), who rallied for a 6-4 victory that dropped the Anteaters (41-24) into an elimination game against Texas on Wednesday at 5 p.m. (PDT) at TD Ameritrade Park.
Buehler, who some believe is the best mid-week starter in the nation, pitched 5 1/3 hitless, shutout innings in relief of heralded starter Tyler Beede, the 14th overall pick in last week’s major league draft who coughed up a 2-0 lead.
UCI turned its only three hits, a walk and a hit batter into four runs in the fourth inning to take a two-run advantage.
But the Commodores rallied with three runs off of UCI starter Elliot Surrey in the fifth inning and tacked on another run in the seventh to advance to Friday’s bracket final.
Buehler, whose 95-mph fastball prompted UCI Coach Mike Gillespie to say during a mid-game ESPN interview that “we are facing Nolan Ryan,” struck out seven to improve to 12-2. He retired the first eight and the final four he faced.
UCI junior third baseman Taylor Sparks capped the four-run outburst for the designated hosts, lacing a two-run single up the middle to break a 2-2 deadlock.
Sophomore designated hitter Jonathan Munoz began the rally with one out, when he was hit by a pitch, the first of three batters hit by Beede, who will soon sign a hefty contract with the San Francisco Giants. Beede also walked three.
Sophomore second baseman Grant Palmer looped a single into right field to put runners at the corners. Junior right fielder Kris Paulino then rocketed a single to right to put UCI on the scoreboard and, after a wild pitch let Palmer advance to third, a successful squeeze bunt by Adam Alcantara knotted the score.
But UCI had just three baserunners the rest of the way, only one of which reached second base.
Three of the four Vanderbilt hitters who doubled came around to score as sophomore leadoff man Dansby Swanson went three for five with two doubles and two runs. Swanson, who paced the Commodores’ 11-hit attack, reached base in five of his six plate appearances and had one of five stolen bases for the winners.
Sparks, one of four Anteaters to strike out twice, was one for four and is now 15 for 32 in the postseason (.469).
UCI senior Evan Brock, who pitched 2 1/3 hitless innings of scoreless relief to earn the CWS-opening win against Texas on Saturday, was again effective in only his second appearance out of the bullpen this season. Brock struck out four and allowed three hits and one run over 2 2/3 innings.
Senior Mitch Merten worked a scoreless eighth inning before giving way to Sam Moore after a leadoff single in the ninth.
Moore, the NCAA leader with 23 saves who earlier Monday received the Gregg Olson award as the national breakout player of the year, got two outs, but walked a batter and hit another to load the bases.
Senior Jimmy Litchfield then got the final out in the ninth to leave the bases loaded and maintain the two-run deficit.
Vanderbilt stranded 14, after Texas left 12 runners against UCI on Saturday.
Surrey, who had two wins and a save in his three previous postseason appearances, took the loss and is now 8-5.
-- Barry Faulkner
College World Series
Vanderbilt 6, UC Irvine 4
SCORE BY INNINGS
VU 200 030 100 – 6 11 1
UCI 040 000 000 – 4 3 0
Beede, Buehler (4) and Dekay; Surrey, Brock (5), Merten (8), Moore (9), Litchfield (9) and McClanahan. W – Buehler, 12-2. L – Surrey, 8-5. 2B – Swanson (V) 2, Wiel (V), Wiseman (V).